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First Annual Report submitted to the State; improvements in data are needed to maximize efficiency moving forward

Higher data accuracy will help South Fork Kings GSA landowners take advantage of every drop

The South Fork Kings GSA, together with the four other Tulare Lake Subbasin GSAs, submitted the first Annual Report on groundwater conditions to the CA Department of Water Resources on May 5, 2020. The Annual Report focuses on groundwater conditions in water year 2019 (Sept 2018 – Oct 2019) informed by water data, both directly measured and estimated, to update the State and stakeholders on groundwater sustainability progress.

Information includes both surface water and groundwater data that when used together, provide a picture of water use in the Subbasin. Surface water supplies provided a heavy lift to meet water demands in the Subbasin, totaling 584,906 acre-feet for the period, with local river supplies accounting for 91% of the total.

A substantial 90% of the 480,390 acre-feet groundwater extraction estimate was derived from land use information, including agricultural crop demand using imaging collected by satellite. Land use estimates using satellite imagery are useful to develop an understanding of groundwater demand but are less accurate than direct measurement tools like meters or verified crop information reported by landowners. Because groundwater extraction data is key to understanding groundwater balance, the South Fork Kings GSA is aiming to achieve higher accuracy.

Improving the accuracy of data, starting with more precise groundwater extraction measurement, will help water managers strategically manage supplies to benefit landowners while achieving sustainability under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

With an accurate read on groundwater conditions, water managers gain a firmer grasp on how much groundwater can sustainably be used. Overreliance on land use estimates can inhibit maximum groundwater use efficiency and carries a higher risk of creating pumping deficits that then must be retroactively and stringently corrected. By removing uncertainty, landowners have the opportunity to take advantage of every drop available.

An upcoming landowner survey in the South Fork Kings GSA is part of the agency’s efforts to fine tune data on groundwater supply within its service area. The focus on gathering accurate groundwater data moving forward will help the South Fork Kings GSA maximize its water supplies for stakeholders while ensuring long-term use is balanced.

Tulare Lake Subbasin awarded $500,000 DWR grant to recover GSP development costs and fund future monitoring efforts

The Tulare Lake Subbasin received its full grant funding request of $500,000 from the CA Department of Water Resources (DWR). The Tulare Lake Subbasin, encompassing the South Fork Kings GSA, was among 53 applicants statewide to receive funding to support Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) development and implementation.

The Subbasin plans to use $350,000 of the funds to recover a portion of the GSAs’ contributions to finalize development of the GSP, the roadmap to balance groundwater supplies. The remaining $150,000 will be divided among the GSAs to fund GSP implementation activities. The South Fork Kings GSA plans to utilize its portion of the funds to support groundwater level monitoring efforts, a critical data-gathering activity for assessing sustainability progress.

DWR awarded approximately $47 million in total grant funds across the State. Proposition 68, passed in 2018, provides a significant $46.25 million of awarded funds. The additional $1.6 million is provided through Proposition 1, passed in 2014, conditional upon future reappropriation of grant funds in Fiscal Year 2021/22.

The grant is part of DWR’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Grant Program providing funding for sustainable groundwater planning and project implementation through a competitive grant solicitation process. The Subbasin was previously awarded $1.5 million for GSP development in an earlier round of the program’s solicitations.

In addition to the DWR grant program the South Fork Kings GSA Board will continue to pursue other funding opportunities to offset the costs of implementing SGMA. At this time two additional grant funding opportunities are being pursued. An application has been submitted for DWR’s Technical Support Services grant to fund monitoring well installation. The well would provide data on groundwater levels in the deep aquifer zone below the Corcoran clay. A separate application was submitted for a private Climate Resiliency Grant to fund outreach efforts and Aquifer Storage and Recovery pilot testing.

Board Meetings Have Gone Virtual – How to Join Us Via Zoom

As a result of the COVID-19 emergency and the Governor’s Executive Orders N-29-20 and N-33-20, the upcoming South Fork Kings GSA Board Meeting will occur remotely via video and teleconference. There will not be a physical public access location. The South Fork Kings GSA will hold its upcoming meeting via Zoom, a video conference service for remote meetings (click here for virtual meeting protocol and logistics, including public comment). We know this is a departure from the norm. We have developed general guidelines for how to download and use Zoom to join our meetings. Keep in mind that depending on your device and method for joining the meeting the process may be different, but Zoom does a great job walking users through the process of joining a meeting.

For guidance on what Zoom method might work best for you, click below to follow our guides:

Zoom Guide: For the person who likes to go with the flow

Zoom Guide: For the person who likes to plan ahead

Zoom Guide: For the person with unruly internet, or who prefers a phone call

Groundwater Plan Adopted, Implementation Begins

Left to Right: Council Member David Brown, City of Lemoore; Charles Meyer, Stratford Irrigation District; Supervisor Doug Verboon, County of Kings; Vice Chair Ceil Howe, Empire West Side Irrigation District; Scott Mercer, Stratford Public Utilities District

Lemoore, CA – The South Fork Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency (SFKGSA) Board unanimously adopted the Tulare Lake Subbasin Groundwater Sustainability Plan at their January 16 meeting. The SFKGSA will use the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) as a roadmap to balance its groundwater. For the initial implementation period, the SFKGSA Board is operating under the assumption of an estimated groundwater overdraft of 38,000 acre feet per year. The GSP includes a full suite of supply enhancement and demand reduction programs the SFKGSA Board may consider to reduce this estimated overdraft number.

SFKGSA is the one of five groundwater sustainability agencies within the Tulare Lake Subbasin that have worked together to complete the Tulare Subbasin Groundwater Sustainability Plan. In addition to the SFKGSA, the Mid-Kings River GSA, El Rico GSA, and Tri-County Water Authority GSA have all unanimously adopted the GSP. The Southwest Kings GSA will consider adoption at a special board meeting on January 27. Upon completion of the adoption process, the GSP will be submitted to the State by the deadline of January 31. 

Once the Tulare Lake Subbasin GSP is posted to the Department of Water Resources (DWR) web portal, it will be open to public comment for a minimum of 60 days. Public comments will be compiled and considered in DWR’s assessment of the GSP. DWR has two years from date of submission to evaluate and assess the Plan.

The SFKGSA will begin implementing their GSP immediately after submittal. The SFKGSA Board will begin developing policies and prioritizing the management actions and projects within the GSP to be implemented. In addition, the first annual report must be completed and submitted to DWR by April 2020.

Board Approves $9.80 Assessment

The Board approved an assessment of $9.80 per acre for fiscal year 2020 at their June 20 meeting. Based on assessable acreage of 71,332.5, this generates a projected revenue of $699,059. This amount covers the 2020 budget of $666,246, which is the amount approved by South Fork Kings GSA landowners in the assessment election passed in 2018. Items included in the 2020 budget are administrative costs of $73,130, professional services in the amount of $377,650, and a $43,586 contingency fund. The $9.80 assessment also provides approximately $33,000 in additional revenue.

For Board consideration, Assistant Treasurer Brian Trevarrow presented Board members with two assessment options, $9.34 and $9.80. Trevarrow stated the proposed budget amount of $666,246 does not include money for legal expenses nor allow much cushion for cost increases. Another concern is the potential unplanned costs that may arise from implementing a new regulation as comprehensive and complex as SGMA (Sustainable Groundwater Management Act). Trevarrow also noted to date only $627,000 of the $698,000 revenue assessed last year is collected potentially leaving a $71,000 gap in uncollected revenue for fiscal year 2019.

Considering all of these factors, the Board decided it was prudent to approve the $9.80 rate for fiscal year 2020 to ensure the basic costs of implementing SGMA are funded and to lessen the impact of any possible shortfall in revenue due to unpaid assessments.

Twelve Wells will Monitor Groundwater

South Fork Kings GSA’s technical consultant, Geosyntec presented at the May 23 Board workshop the proposed well network to be included in the Groundwater Sustainability Plan. Three locations within the SFKGSA service area have been identified. The wells at these locations are where the GSA will measure water levels to report to the State Department of Water Resources.

The wells will provide data from three separate levels in the aquifer from shallow to deep: zones A, B, and C. A-zone wells are located in the shallow perched area of the aquifer within the top 100 feet above the A Clay. The B-zone wells are below the A Clay layer and above the Corcoran Clay, the deepest clay layer. It is an unsaturated aquifer so water levels go up and down. The C-zone are wells installed below the Corcoran Clay. It is a confined aquifer so there is less variation of what is occurring in the aquifer at that level.

The network will use existing wells but will also require the drilling of additional wells to ensure adequate data is collected. Currently, there are seven existing wells in the three locations that are part of the Kings River Conservation District’s monitoring network. There is one well in the A-zone and six wells in the B-zone. Five additional wells will need to be installed to complete the network, two in the A-zone and three wells in the C-zone.

Creativity and adaptive management will reduce 45,000 AF of estimated overdraft in the South Fork Kings

The South Fork Kings is tasked with stabilizing groundwater levels to reach sustainability under SGMA. This means reducing the near 45,000 acre-feet per year of groundwater overdraft in the GSA, an estimation calculated by the subbasin’s groundwater model. A menu of projects and management actions to reduce the groundwater overdraft was presented by the GSA’s technical consultant at the April 18th Board workshop.

A combination of supply-side and demand-side solutions will achieve sustainability. Solutions will either increase available water supply to offset groundwater pumping and/or will decrease the demand for groundwater. The technical consultants outlined specific projects and actions for consideration during these next few years of sustainability planning.

(click to enlarge)

The percentages represent the proportion of overdraft each item will solve. Please note these proportions and management actions are in preliminary draft form.

On the demand side, on farm improvements in irrigation efficiency and water treatment could save an estimated 2,230 acre-feet per year. Land retirement with opt-in incentives and land repurposing, such as solar farms, could yield a savings of 1,340 acre-feet per year.

There is potential to cooperate on supply-side projects that benefit the entire subbasin. One example is cost-sharing for constructing recharge basins on especially suitable soils in surrounding GSAs. Although primarily used by municipalities, Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR), a process in which water is injected into the aquifer for storage and subsequent withdrawal, is being studied for agricultural application. ASR has the potential to reduce overdraft by an estimated 10,258 acre-feet per year.

As the South Fork Kings GSA progresses with its Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP), balancing SGMA compliance with economic impacts to the service area is a high priority for the Board. Developing creative solutions and adaptive management actions will ultimately drive sustainability success and secure the region’s water supply for years to come.

Preliminary Monitoring Network Identified

SFKGSA’s technical consultant, Geosyntec, has researched and identified wells for consideration as part of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan monitoring network. The wells will provide data from three separate levels in the aquifer, zones A, B, and C. A zone wells are located in a perched area of the aquifer within the top 100 feet above the A Clay. The B zone wells are below the A Clay layer and above the Corcoran Clay. It is an unsaturated aquifer so water levels go up and down. The C zone are wells installed below the Corcoran Clay. It is a confined aquifer so there is less variation of what is occurring in the aquifer at that level.

Additional wells will be considered for the monitoring network, and new wells may need to be installed to ensure there are no data gaps in the network. In addition, data sharing is anticipated with neighboring GSA wells along the outer boundaries of the South Fork Kings GSA area.

Monitoring Network Preliminary Wells Map

Adaptive management is essential on the years-long road to sustainability

Reaching groundwater sustainability in the Tulare Lake Subbasin, and in subbasins across the State, will require periodic management adjustments. Not only will the formality of updating the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) every five years for mandatory resubmittal to CA Department of Water Resources call for adjustments, actually achieving sustainability will require learned modifications as time lends improved data and as the effects of implemented strategies are observed.

The Tulare Lake Subbasin will soon have an estimation for the amount of groundwater overdraft in the subbasin. Each of the six GSAs within the subbasin will be responsible for a portion of the total overdraft amount. SGMA stipulates that all subbasins reach sustainability by the year 2040, correcting the groundwater overdraft and maintaining a sustainable level of groundwater use.

Efforts to correct groundwater overdraft will include a number of varying projects and actions that will either increase the supply or decrease the demand for water. The South Fork Kings GSA is considering a “menu” of these overdraft management items, broken into several categories presented by the GSA’s technical consultant Geosyntec.

(click to enlarge)

SW = surface water

The management action “menu” in the above image represents possible solutions to correct groundwater overdraft. Overdraft is represented by the orange bar on the left of the image. The menu items: conservation/reuse, water imports, land conversion, dry year management, new storage, on farm efficiency improvement, surface water delivery improvement, are represented by varying colored bars. Acknowledging resource scarcity, the variance in menu item size is proportional to the number of actions pursued within the menu item by the GSA. For example, this menu shows boundary inflow/outflow improvements holding the largest proportion of the management action menu, meaning it will consume a larger portion of the GSA’s solutions than all other listed items.

As the South Fork Kings GSA periodically monitors progress toward its 2040 sustainability goal, adjustments may be made to the proportion assigned to the menu items. For example, the figure below illustrates a scenario in which the GSA decides in 2030 to increase surface water delivery and decrease boundary inflow/outflow improvements, among other adjustments. The illustration shows modifications to the menu again in 2040.

(click to enlarge)

SW = surface water

The South Fork Kings GSA is working to refine its understanding of the current problem so it can best allocate resources to the most efficient and effective proportion of menu item solutions. But the implementation of groundwater sustainability will inevitably be an iterative process requiring adjustments over time. These adjustments may be made for a variety of reasons, such as an increase in data to inform trends, financial/economic factors, and/or fluctuations in water availability.

The Tulare Lake Subbasin will submit one Groundwater Sustainability Plan to CA DWR in January 2020, but GSP implementation in the South Fork Kings GSA service area is up to the discretion of the GSA; varying projects and management actions to benefit the service area will be considered and approved by the South Fork Kings GSA Board.

Project and management action concepts discussed at Board workshop

At the October 18th Board workshop, the South Fork Kings GSA’s technical consultant Geosyntec introduced potential management concepts for mitigating groundwater overdraft in the South Fork Kings area. SGMA requires subbasins become sustainable by the year 2040; the means to achieve that mandate are the projects and management actions that will be included in the Tulare Lake Subbasin Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP).

A reduction in groundwater use, an increase in groundwater recharge, and the implementation of programs and management actions to increase water use efficiency are broad strategies for establishing a trajectory toward sustainability.

Project concepts to reduce groundwater use include the acquisition of additional surface water, or crop conversion to less water demanding crops. Both solutions carry the potential to offset groundwater demand. Increasing the amount of groundwater recharged in the South Fork Kings area to stabilize water levels can be accomplished a number of ways, either through the construction of additional dedicated recharge basins or through “incidental” means by way of flood irrigation and canal seepage.

To provide flexibility, the GSA seeks to provide a menu of programs and management actions for landowners in its service area. Program concepts may include water markets and groundwater crediting systems, allowing water trading among growers within the GSA and consequently incentivizing water use efficiency.

The management concepts discussed are in the early stages of consideration. The South Fork Kings GSA is working to factor local conditions, economic constraints, and stakeholder input as it identifies a project portfolio that achieves State-mandated sustainability.

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